Biography of Muhammad Ali That Stings Like a Bee (+ Giveaway!)

As you may have figured out from my earlier posts, I’m a huge fan of picture book biographies (which is probably why I write them.) This month I’d like to share a picture book biography gem, Muhammad Ali, Champion of the World (2007) by Jonah Winter (illustrated by Francois Roca.) If I had to describe this book’s greatness with one word, it would be “voice.”


And what a powerful voice Jonah evokes in this masterful text.  Just take a peek at the opening spread —

“IN THE BEGINNING was Jack Johnson

and Jack Johnson was THE MAN –

the first black king in the Kingdom of Boxing.

But after defeating the Great White Hope …

Jack Johnson was hated and booed

all over America

just for the color of his skin

and for acting proud–

and so he wandered off to a distant land.

Voice is an elusive, undefinable entity, but when you happen upon a story with great voice you immediately know it. It grabs hold of your emotions and won’t let you put the book down. Identifying exactly what makes for great voice can be tricky. So instead, I’d like to share a few observations about this wonderful, engaging text.

First off, the line breaks provided powerful pacing and a sense of urgency. The occasional all-capped words helped emphasize certain words, which gave the text a unique rhythm and flow. Strong verb choices punched up the story tension, especially the fights scenes such as this spread where Muhammad won an Olympic gold medal, “Then he TALKED and JIVED and PRACTICED and PUNCHED his way to victory…” Wonderful alliteration and clever descriptive phrases added to the great overall “feel” of the story.

Also, the author seamlessly wove actual quotes from Muhammad Ali into the text which were very moving.  Hearing the main character’s own words in a story can have great impact on the reader, and the quote choices and placements in this text were extremely successful.

Obviously, Jonah did a boatload of research for this title, which resulted in incredible quotes and many fascinating details that added to the book’s authentic, compelling voice.

It was a thrill to discover this inspiring pb biography (although belatedly), and I enjoyed learning many new things about “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” Muhammad Ali.

If you’d like to read more of Jonah Winter’s great pb biographies, here are a few of his other titles — Barack, Sonia Sotomayor, Roberto Clemente, Dizzy, Lillian’s Right to Vote, and more!

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Book Giveaway – I will select one winner to receive a copy of Muhammad Ali, Champion of the World from those who comment on this post by Feb. 21. I’d love to hear about your favorite pb bios!

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at:


  1. One of my favorite’s is THE RIGHT WORD…it’s about Roget and how he created the thesaurus. It’s beautifully written with stunning illustrations!

  2. Oh, so many favorites! Suzanne, I love THE INVENTOR’S SECRET! And I love GINGERBREAD FOR LIBERTY, NOAH WEBSTER AND HIS WORDS, THOSE REBELS, JOHN & TOM. And I’m with Kristi – THE RIGHT WORD is fantastic. YOU CAN’T DO THAT, AMELIA is another favorite. I could go on and on! I loved Jonah Winter’s LILLIAN’S RIGHT TO VOTE. I can’t wait to read this one on Mohammed Ali. Thanks for a great post!

  3. Hello–I have so many favorite PB bios, but an oldie but a goodie is certainly SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY. Newer favorites include A RIVER OF WORDS about William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant. I, too, love writing bios. Such interesting lives of real people are so inspiring!

  4. Thanks, Suzanne!

    I’m a big fan of Jonah Winter’s work. One of his early pb bios on Frida Kahlo is lovely and so lyrical. And Lilian’s Right to Vote is so powerful and moving. Thanks for sharing this new bio with us!

    In terms of favorite pb bios, it’s one of my all-time favorite genres and too many come to mind to list, but here are some:

    The Boy Who Drew Birds by Jacqueline Davies
    Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnell
    The Right Word & A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant
    The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass
    The Tree Lady by Joseph Hopkins
    On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne

    And many more!!
    A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley
    Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess

  5. Our favorite, by far, is the Noisy Paint Box. Thanks for these new ideas!

  6. I loved Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess and Kris Di Giacomo.
    and am currently reading Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews and Bon Appetite! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland. Great fun, all.

  7. Oh thanks for sharing! I love pb biographies. Abe Lincoln crosses a creek is a personal favorite. I’ll have to pick up a few of these as well!

  8. I am currently working on a picture book biography and love reading them. One of my recent favorites was Diego Rivera: His World and Ours.

  9. HARD to pick an all-time favorite, but I’m going with Dave The Potter. Maybe it’s because I met the illustrator (Bryan Collier) but I have special love for that one.

    • love all these PB biographies. I just finished Boys of Steel: the creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman. very well-done

  10. Lucky you meeting Bryan Collier! Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Thank you for sharing this, Suzanne. One picture book biography that I love is STAR STUFF: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson. I was completely drawn in by the simple but lyrical text and the beautiful illustrations.

  12. I love ODD BOY OUT, a picture book about young Einstein. Years ago I taught a genius [a second grader] and introduced him to this book.

  13. I’m a big fan of Jonah Winters (and his always-distinctive voice) too. Love his You Never Heard of Willy Mays (and Sandy Koufax)?! books. As for other bios, Me . . . Jane is one of my all-time favorites.

  14. I LOVE PB Bios, too! Trying to write a few, actually. I am a big fan of Andrea Davis Pinkney, ever since hearing her speak at PB Summit. Talk about VOICE!
    This is becoming a really great list of PB Bios, I’m gonna check them all out!

  15. My absolute favorite picture book biography has to be EMMANUEL’S DREAM By Laurie Ann Thompson. It is a must read. Thanks for sharing your recommendation – logging onto my library site now!

  16. I agree, we’ve got a great list going. So fun to think about all the wonderful pb bios by so many different authors (and illustrators too!)

  17. I can’t wait to hear the ‘voice’ Thanks for sharing.

  18. I have always been fascinated by Ali. Did you know his daughter, Laila, became a professional boxer as well?

  19. Three I’ve shared with older elementary students are:
    “Teammates” by Peter Golenbock and illustrated by Paul Bacon (about Jackie Robinson and “Pee Wee” Reese)
    and “Major Taylor Champion Cyclist” by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome
    and “Thank you, Sarah–The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving” by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Matt Faulkner.

  20. What an awesome resource list! I too have many favorites. Just introduced The Noisy Paint Box to the Art teacher earlier this school year and she loves it. Viva Frida and Vincent Paints his House are two others that i introduced to the Art teacher – she was in need of Biographies 🙂

  21. I just got a ton of book ideas for the next trip to the library! Thanks, everyone!

  22. Me too! What a great collaborative list of wonderful books!

  23. I recently read Lillian’s Right to Vote. I loved how the author showed Lillian’s road traveled in order to arrive at a voting box.

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